When Scott founded Riverside in 1982, he was one of six people working in a church basement with a single day program for 30 adults with mental illness. He was inspired to devote himself to behavioral healthcare and human services after working at the age of 18 for a facility in Nebraska that served people with developmental disabilities. Scott was assigned to Gina, a 7-year-old girl, who was blind and couldn’t speak. Scott received no training and was appalled at the conditions. He said, “It all felt so wrong that I almost quit after my first shift.” But Scott quickly realized that Gina responded to his kindness. She ate, smiled, and was even playful. He dashed his plans to become an attorney fighting for peace and social justice – or a sculptor – and decided he wanted to help people like Gina. “I wanted to work in an organization that treated the people it served and staff with respect. If I had to figure out how to do it myself, I would.”
Scott’s dedication to demonstrating respect to the people Riverside served continued through the years as he led the organization in exponential growth. He was committed to identifying gaps in services and helping Riverside develop innovative programs to meet community needs, as well as arranging collaborations and mergers with other organizations that were looking for partnerships. “His inspiration for growing Riverside was so he could help the most people in need and ensure they were getting compassionate and high-quality services,” said Marsha Medalie, a longtime colleague, close friend, and current President and CEO of Riverside.
A highlight for Scott was visiting any one of Riverside’s nearly100 programs across eastern and south-central Massachusetts, including residences for people with disabilities, emergency services, outpatient centers, and specialized child and family programs. He liked to mingle with clients and staff, often using his sense of humor to break the ice, getting the true low-down on what was happening at the program. After the visits, he would send glowing reports about the impressive and amazing people he met while there.
Scott was a beloved boss and co-worker. He took equal time to get to know everyone – from interns to upper management. As Sam Falaye, Regional Director of Residential Services, said, “No matter who you were, Scott always asked a lot of questions. He wanted to really get to know you so he could make a connection.” Scott loved attending the bi-weekly new employee orientations – many were surprised that the CEO of a large organization would make the time to do this. Sam remembers when a site supervisor passed away after a brief illness, and Scott visited his family in Lowell, who were both appreciative and amazed that the CEO would come by to pay his respects.
A self-proclaimed “hippie in a suit,” Scott embraced workforce diversity and inclusion long before it was standard practice. Scott fiercely believed that anyone involved with Riverside, whether it be a client, client family member, employee, or board member, must be respectful of differences in beliefs or backgrounds. Scott started a diversity committee at Riverside long before they were mainstream and championed Riverside’s Mutual Respect Policy, which is prominently displayed in all buildings. Scott aptly realized that an organization like Riverside would thrive on differences since those differences would enable Riverside to learn from diverse perspectives and provide more culturally sensitive and compassionate services.
Scott’s quest for a diverse staff extended to those who had dealt with mental health or substance use issues themselves. He encouraged people with lived experience to come to Riverside, where he was supportive – and had very high expectations, just as with all Riverside staff. “Scott made it safe for employees to share their lived experience openly. He wanted to build a compassionate workforce that would connect deeply with and truly value the people that they were supporting. Scott saw the strength of genuine and caring relationships as key to recovery,” said Val Comerford, a friend and former Riverside employee.
An entrepreneur at heart, Scott was extremely proud of the innovative programs that emerged from Riverside including the Employment Collaboratives, Riverside Trauma Center, Behavioral Treatment Services, and most recently MindWise Innovations. “Scott was a fearless soul, never afraid to challenge the world, to take risks, and to fight for an idea. He was always pivoting and inventing new ways of thinking. Scott shaped Riverside into an organization that reflected his own fearless spirit,” said Satya Montgomery, Chief Operating Officer at Riverside.
Scott recognized that the quality of services for people served, as well as the quality of life for human service employees, were reliant on funding and collaboration with government, funders, and among organizations. Savvy when it came to politics and partnerships, he was a leader of The Collaborative, a group that represents key industry trade associations. He had a way of bringing people together and mobilizing behind a common cause.
Scott was perhaps happiest in his African art-filled home listening to obscure blues music or in his spare time writing magazine articles about blues musicians he has known. But Scott loved his job and the organization he founded, and stayed involved as much as he could right up to the end of his life. As Marsha Medalie says, “He was a force who leaves us with lasting memories and a determination to continue our work. He stayed true to his values and the Riverside mission until his final days… making an important, positive difference in people’s lives.”
In lieu of flowers, Scott’s family has asked that contributions be made to Riverside Community Care: 270 Bridge Street, Dedham, Mass., 02026, or you may make a gift online here. If donating by check, please note the gift is in tribute to Scott so that we may notify his family. A memorial service is being planned for the fall.